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Priests behaving badly: Election edition

Priests/Parishes of Cincinnati Archdiocese violate USCCB election guidelines

CINCINNATI  — The stated policy of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is that there’s no place for partisan politics in its parishes. Echoing Pope Francis’s admonition to U.S. Bishops earlier this year that Church leadership needs to step back from partisan politics, and following USCCB guidelines, the Archdiocese recently reminded its priests that “Church leadership may not endorse political parties or political candidates, or take any action that could be construed as endorsement on the part of the Church,” that they may not “describe political parties as negative entities,” and that “political material” is unwelcome anywhere on Catholic parish property, including vestibules, bulletins, and websites.

If priests in the Archdiocese could be counted on to abide by this policy, Parishes Without Politics would not have to exist. Faithful Catholics from Greater Cincinnati formed Parishes Without Politics in 2012. They monitor parishes for overt political activity-whether in homilies, in parish vestibules, or on parish websites-and post such activity on their website, http://www.parisheswithoutpolitics.org, for the public’s benefit.

Examples that monitors for Parishes Without Politics found this month alone include:

• In the October 4, 2020 bulletin of St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, the Basilica for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the rector, Rev. Jan Kevin Schmidt, in his weekly column titled “Rector’s Ramblings,” openly flouted the Archdiocese’s policy, writing, “In fact, our Bishops have recently stated that [abortion] is the preeminent issue to be focused upon when voting in a few weeks. Much is on the line as we approach November 3 and for Catholics there is only one party upholding life. The other party has degraded itself so terribly with its embrace of that which is fundamentally about death, be it abortion or euthanasia, or the slide towards the embrace of socialism and the evils that lead from it.”

Fr. Schmidt specifically derided “politicians on the left”: “Let me share with you a little of what has been foreshadowed in the unrest of recent months as fomented by Antifa, the poor education of our young and the misconstrued efforts of politicians on the left. What is this ‘slide’ towards socialism all about? Perhaps our young think it to be a solution to their dissatisfaction, their angst, their lack of freedom…oh, if they just understood what freedom truly is!”

The bulletin has since been removed from the Basilica’s website, following a deluge of complaints, but the website still includes a non-compliant voting guide.

• In lockstep with President Trump, Fr. Shawn Landenwitch of St. Patrick’s Church in Bellefontaine used his homily on “Respect Life Sunday” (October 4, 2020) to defend the white nationalist group, “The Proud Boys,” claiming that the group is entitled to its “good name” and that those who accuse it of white supremacy are committing “a mortal sin.” Fr. Landenwitch told his congregation, “The Proud Boys were labeled as white supremacists. This is a group, I don’t support them, but they’ve publicly renounced white supremacy, and they’re led by an African Latino. And yet they’re accused of being white supremacists. You know, these charges that are just unfounded and ridiculous, and people are just labeling anyone who doesn’t agree with them as a racist….”

Fr. Landenwitch continued: “But these blanket attacks on people are sinful. We call that calumny, or slander. And it’s a grave sin against justice and truth and charity. Objectively, it’s a mortal sin, because people have a right to their good name…. And certainly for our part, we should never be participating in that slander because that’s sinful, and it’s something that needs to be confessed.”

• All Saints Church in Cincinnati, Ohio had on display in its vestibule copies of a sample ballot issued by Cincinnati Right to Life Political Action Committee, which explicitly endorses candidates. Placing this material on Church property is a flagrant violation of the Archdiocese’s policy.

• Partisan “Priests for Life” literature denigrating Democrats was found in the vestibule of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Milford, Ohio. Also found were copies of the Right to Life News Brief of Greater Cincinnati, Inc., containing fixed issue positions for candidates seeking federal, state, and county offices, including for judge. Candidates for judge are forbidden to spell out their positions on questions likely to come before the court they are seeking.

• On October 18, 2020, Fr. David Sunberg delivered a homily at Guardian Angels Church in Cincinnati’s Mt. Washington neighborhood. In the days afterward, the Church’s website featured and repeatedly linked to Fr. Sunberg’s homily, as instructive on how to “follow your faith for the upcoming election.” In his homily, he told the congregation, “We come to a critical juncture in our Nation in 17 days. We have the right to vote and the Church would say it is our duty to vote for those who will govern us and who will protect what God has given to us for the good of our society.” Criticizing those who “don’t worry about a Catholic who is running for president,” he tossed around words like communism, socialism, fascism, and Nazism.

Then Fr. Sunberg turned to King Cyrus-right-wing Christians’ by-now-familiar code for President Trump-whom he said “God used … to restore the nation of Israel so they could live with values and principals [sic] God gave to them and called them to witness. When we go to vote on November 3, we need to bring our faith into the voting booth….We need to choose our candidates who will support life, family and religious freedoms or I fear, we could lose everything….”

To see or listen to these and other examples, visit the Parishes Without Politics website.

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An earlier version of this press release contained an entry quoting from a videotaped homily that recently was featured on the catholic.org   website. That video is not one that Parishes Without Politics believed the Archdiocese of Cincinnati would allow its parishes to post on their websites under its “no partisan politics on church property” policy. In the entry, we pointed out that a parish website in the Archdiocese had linked to the catholic.org webpage which included that video. After we posted that entry, the parish whose website linked to that catholic.org webpage contacted Parishes Without Politics and agreed to remove those links from its website. Because that parish website, by removing those links, has in good faith disassociated itself from a message we felt was inconsistent with the Archdiocese’s policy, we have reciprocated by removing the original entry from this posting of our press release. 

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Contact:
James Heileman 513-531-7336 [email protected]
Mike Harmon 513-600-6689 [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.